The Apostles' Fast 2015, June 8-29
ON THE APOSTLES' FAST
A History of the Apostles' Fast - This fine article surveys patristic testimony for the fast, the various traditions concerning its duration, and lastly the ascetical practices associated with it. From the first paragraph:
"The Apostles almost always fasted."
St John Chrysostom, Sermon 57 on the Gospel of Matthew
The fast of the holy Apostles is very ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. We have the testimony of St. Athanasius the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Leo the Great and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarding it. The oldest testimony regarding the Apostles Fast is given to us by St. Athanasius the Great (†373). In his letter to Emperor Constance, in speaking of the persecution by the Arians, he writes: "During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray." "The Lord so ordained it," says St. Ambrose (†397), "that as we have participated in his sufferings during the Forty Days, so we should also rejoice in his Resurrection during the season of Pentecost. We do not fast during the season of Pentecost, since our Lord Himself was present amongst us during those days … Christ’s presence was like nourishing food for the Christians. So too, during Pentecost, we feed on the Lord who is present among us. On the days following his ascension into heaven, however, we again fast" (Sermon 61). St. Ambrose basis this practice on the words of Jesus concerning his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 9:14, 15: "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridgeroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Continue reading...
"The apostles served the Lord Jesus and later provided leadership to the first generation Christian believers. They were of such importance that the word "apostle" occurs approximately seventy-nine times in the New Testament. Acts of the Apostles portrays the apostles as leaders of the first church in Jerusalem during the Church's first decade. The apostles truly established the church and with their fast we contemplate the glory of God, their faith, and hardships in which they overcame." ~ From an article by Bishop Youssef of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Continue reading...
The Apostles' Fast is a variable length, depending on the date of Pascha. Therefore this year, 2010, it is quite long, four weeks plus one day! Let us therefore consider this simple word from one of the Fathers, Blessed Augustine:
The more days of fasting there are, the better the healing is; the longer the period of abstinence, the more abundant the gain of salvation is.
While most Orthodox Christians are perhaps aware of the general rule of fasting for Great Lent and the Dormition Fast (wine and oil allowed only on Saturdays and Sundays, except for a few feast days and vigils), many are probably not familiar with the precise rule governing the less severe fast of the Nativity and Apostles' Fast. Therefore, we shall quote this rule, from Chapter 33 of the Typicon:
"It should be noted that in the Fast of the Holy Apostles and of the Nativity of Christ, on Tuesday and Thursday we do not eat fish, but only oil and wine. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we eat neither oil nor wine... On Saturday and Sunday we eat fish..."
From A Recent Church Father:
"We have many fasts: four lengthy ones, the Great Fast (Great Lent), the Apostles' Fast, the Dormition Fast and the Nativity Fast; and a number of shorter ones.
"What an amazing and un-Christian relationship so many people now have to these fasts. The fasts are violated by people without a qualm of conscience, as if the matter was about some nonsense which had no significance. The Church, on the other hand, takes a very serious view of the matter...
"Fasting is absolutely indispensable for man. From the external aspect, it is a struggle of filial obedience to God, Who has given us the rules of fasting through His Holy Spirit. From the inner aspect, fasting is a struggle of restraint and self-limitation. In this lies the great value and sense of fasting, since a strict observance of fasts tempers one's will and perfects the character of one who is firm in his religious convictions and actions. Let us not forget that Christ Himself fasted, and foretold that His apostles would also fast.
"We hear people claiming that fasting is harmful to the health. But strict fasting is not required of people who are ill, and they fast only according to their strength. Most important, one should remember that it is only those people who do not fast who speak about the 'harm to health' of fasting. But those who do observe fasting will never say this, for they know from personal experience that not only is fasting not harmful, but it is positively beneficial to bodily health.
"Fasting is not merely a restraining from food. During the days of the fasts, the Church sings, 'While fasting bodily, let us also fast spiritually...' True fasting includes deeds of Christian mercy. It is an alienation of the evil-one, a restraint of the tongue, a laying aside of anger, a cutting off of vices and an exposure of falsehood... Thus, for a Christian, fasting is a time of restraint and self-education in all respects, and a real Christian fast gives believers a great moral satisfaction. The great teacher of Christian asceticism Bishop Theophan the Recluse says of fasting:
'Fasting appears gloomy until one steps into its arena. But begin and you will see what light it brings after darkness, what freedom from bonds, what release after a burdensome life.' "
~ Metropolitan Philaret of New York
THE HOLY FATHERS ON FASTING
SELF-CONTROL AS FASTING: The act of fasting is a conscious act to glorify God and his creation as it helps us overcome our actions based on our passions and bodily desires for pleasure. It is an act that restrains our egoism and heightens our spiritual appetite. Fasting demands will-power and the reestablishment of the domination of the soul over the body.
Gluttony is seen by our Church Fathers as the primary passion to overcome. Mastering it you can then master the others. Continue reading (includes insights from Fr. Dimitru Staniloae)...
"Whosoever rejects the fasts, deprives himself and others of weapons against his own much-suffering flesh and against the devil, who have power over us especially as the result of our intemperance."
~ St John of Kronstadt
"Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.
"It is necessary most of all for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to meekness and condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, to examine his conscience, to put his mind to the test and to verify what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourself in the present week. This is true fasting.
"Fasting of the body is food for the soul... As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul; imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life.
"Fasting is wonderful, because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower."
~ St John Chrysostom
"Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous. And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance. When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more. And the graces that come through fasting are countless...."
~ Saint Nikolai of Zicha
MORE ON FASTING AND ORTHODOX LIFE